Study Guide

Eating Poetry Stanza 1

By Mark Strand

Stanza 1

Lines 1-2

Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.
There is no happiness like mine.

  • Well, that can't be very healthy, can it? Ink running from the corners of our speaker's mouth? Remember, though, we're in Poetry Land, where anything is possible and nothing is unhealthy (usually).
  • So we can presume that the speaker has just eaten something with ink in it. Maybe it's an octopus? We don't know yet.
  • Whatever it is, he's pretty happy about it. In fact, he's as happy as can be since he says in line 2, "there is no happiness like mine." We want what he's having.
  • Notice that we're getting this poem directly from the source, since it's in first-person. That means it's getting personal here with lots of "I," "me," and "my." We're seeing things from the speaker's own weird perspective that allows us to feel and see things like he does.
  • The speaker also has an active voice, which means we're present in the moment as this is all happening, adding a sense of immediacy to the experience of such weird goings-on.
  • We can't ignore the vivid imagery we get right from the start. It's just as weird as it is memorable. It's not every day we get to see ink dripping from someone's mouth, so Strand is immediately setting us up for some weird and surreal stuff. 
  • Notice too that both lines end with a period. That means we should stop and take a moment to consider each line by itself before putting the pieces together. In a way, each line is kind of its own unique thought and deserves its space. (Check out "Form and Meter" for more on how this poem is put together.)
  • And it's a good thing line 1 ends with a period because we may have to stop and let that weird image settle for a minute before moving on. We have to first wrap our minds around this ink-eating man.
  • But once we do we can appreciate the fact that the fellow is really, really happy. There's no need to elaborate on that.
  • Sometimes being really happy is explanation enough.

Line 3

I have been eating poetry.

  • Aha! By line 3 we get where the ink is coming from: poetry. So, by the end of the first stanza, Strand has succinctly set up the subject and his action in only three short lines—very precise.
  • And just like the first two lines, we need to allow this additional surreal image to sink in before moving on, hence the period. 
  • Notice the slightly confessional element of line 3, as if the speaker is letting us in on this embarrassing yet totally delightful activity of "eating poetry." It's as if we the readers have just caught him in the act and he knows it.
  • That dryly humorous tone is one of Strand's calling cards, so be sure to check out our "Speaker" section for more on this.
  • (By the by, a dry sense of humor is pretty much the opposite of the slapstick kind of humor you get by throwing a pie in someone's face. British comedy is often quite dry, meaning that it's understated, quiet, without bells or whistles. Check out this famous Monty Python sketch for a better idea.)
  • Adding to that dry tone is the fact that this line comes to us in such a matter-of-fact way. The speaker isn't trying to suggest that he's using figurative language here. On the contrary, this is the real deal. He is literally "eating poetry," so no need for any fancy devices.

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